By: | | Dog Training Tips

Do you ever look at your dog and think, “How did I ever get to be so lucky”?

Volunteering for animal therapy work with your dog is the perfect way to share the joy they bring with those who need it the most.

Nursing home residents, hospital patients and domestic violence shelter residents forget their worries when their animal friends come to visit. Youngsters learn how to care for animals during visits, and college students can relax during final exam week with an hour of love from a dog or cat.

What’s a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog is different than a service dog or an emotional support animal (ESA).

You and your therapy dog work as a team, visiting nursing homes, hospitals, schools and/or other facilities. But they are not permitted to accompany you in most public places without explicit permission.

Service dogs assist the disabled. They may go to most public places, even restaurants and grocery stores, to assist their owner, who might be blind, deaf, autistic, diabetic, or epileptic. Service dogs are often purposefully bred and undergo years of training for assistance tasks as well as staying calmed and focused in any public environment.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) assist those with mental or emotional disabilities. They are not usually trained for specific tasks, and are not permitted in most public places. An ESA can accompany their owner in the cabin of an aircraft for no additional ticket fee, and must be allowed to live with their owner, even in housing units that do not permit animals.

Is Your Dog Right for Therapy Work?

Very few dogs are good candidates for therapy work, and training cannot always change that.

Your dog should love being around people, and actively approach them for attention. At the same time, they need to be calm and polite, it is not acceptable for a dog to jump on people to lick their face. Many dogs are not good candidates when they are young, not because they’re unfriendly, but because they’re too enthusiastic, and may be tried again when they’re older and calmer.

Therapy dogs also need to remain calm around loud noises, crowded, small spaces, and other potentially stressful stimuli. While no animal can be expected to tolerate excessive ear-grabbing and tail-pulling from children, therapy dogs need to be able to deal with unpredictable behavior from patients.

How to Work With a Therapy Dog Association

To start volunteering, you’ll need to work with a therapy pet association. Wags for Hope and Pets on Wheels are both therapy animal organizations that serve the Frederick, Maryland area.

Your dog will need a health certificate signed by their vet stating that they are up-to-date on their rabies and distemper vaccines. They will also need to have a fecal test each year.

Then, a coordinator will run a temperament test to see how your dog reacts to noise, strangers, and handling. Your dog is not required to know tricks, but they should have basic obedience skills.

What to Expect During Visits

To be a good therapy dog handler, you need to be your dog’s advocate. You need to be alert at all times, and should be well-read in your dog’s body language so you know when to take your dog out of a stressful situation.

Children and those with mental disabilities will need to be shown how to gently stroke your dog – sometimes you’ll have to show them multiple times. Some facilities allow you to bring toys or treats to help timid residents engage with your pet.

Therapy Dogs Need Walks Too!

Getting plenty of exercise is essential for therapy dogs. Daily walks will keep your dog calm and relaxed for therapy visits. If you need to help making sure your dog gets regular walks, a professional dog walker from Ready Pet Go will be your dog’s new bestie. Contact us or call 240-397-9446 today to schedule your FREE Meet & Greet.